Archives for February 2012

‘The Mother Who Lived’: Reflections on Reader Response

As loyal readers of this site know, I am not a fan of so-called Reader Response literary criticism. Taking the Wikipedia definition as just-about-right, as usual, it’s the relativism of it that I find demeaning to both writer and reader, not to mention the injured truth:

Reader-response criticism is a school of literary theory that focuses on the reader (or “audience”) and his or her experience of a literary work, in contrast to other schools and theories that focus attention primarily on the author or the content and form of the work.

I’m all in, of course, with not focusing on the author’s intentions rather than the intention implicit to the work and for neglecting the reflection of the author’s psycho-biography to look for the artistry and meaning that deliver a shared experience greater than the necessarily fragmented individual one. Accepting that Coleridge is right in his suggestion that we enter text by “suspending disbelief” i.e., that we read with our heart or noetic faculty more than our rational and ego persona, in an act of “poetic faith,” the idea that each reader creates the greater ‘meaning’ of poem, play, or novel strikes me as almost exactly upside-down. Hence our focus here in examining story structure, symbolism, and the supernatural referents that give better writing its power.

I’ll note that I am not entirely consistent in this rejection of Reader Response. C. S. Lewis suggested, for example, that a text has value in so much as it makes the reader or audience “better wiser, and happier” and if they “like it” (“George Sayer on C.S. Lewis’ Definition of a Great Book: Excerpts from our Conversation,” Mark Koonz, CSL December, 2006). Lewis decried, as I do, the Personal Heresy of pre-occupation with an author’s politics and private circumstances but allowed that faith shaped fantasy and the effect of artistry on readers was the point of it, in the end. In this it seems Lewis avoided both the Scylla of relativism and the Charybdis of the inaminate text sans living relationship with a reader’s heart.

Having said all that, I urge you read The Mother Who Lived by ‘Drinking Cocoa’ (PotterDelphian), a LiveJournal post forwarded to me by David. In brief, it is the a gathering of the reflections and experience of a nursing mother while reading Harry Potter and her identification with the author’s struggles with a baby she loves yet loathes because of the sacrificial obligations implicit in the demanding dependency.

No, I don’t think this is an invaluable key for understanding Ms. Rowling’s artistry and meaning akin to alchemy, soul triptychs, and ring composition. But, yes, I know I will never read the opening chapter of Goblet or Harry’s discovery of his mother’s letter in Prince the same way again — and that my appreciation of the work has been enriched in some fashion rather than diminished by this focus on Ms. Rowling’s probable experience as a mom and writer. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Start Over! C. S. Lewis College Idea a ‘No Go’

Way back in the day (April, 2010), we celebrated here the announcement that Hobby Lobby philanthropist David Green had purchased a beautiful campus in central Massachusetts’ Connecticut River Valley for a C. S. Lewis (CSL) College that would be devoted to the Arts and Humanities. It turns out, however, that the gift came with prudent strings; if the CSL Foundation could not raise sufficient funds for college operations by January 2012, the deal was off and the donors would look for another recipient.

Which outcome, it appears, has come to pass. Read the story here. It seems the CSL Foundation is still looking for supporters though the philanthropists have opened the doors to other proposals for the remarkable property. Unless I misread the article, it is a matter of several million dollars. Forgive me for thinking that the CSL Estate, flush with its movie millions (?), might have been expected to step in here?

Oh, well. Your thoughts?

New Rowling Novel to be Published by Little, Brown

Booktrade: Little, Brown To Publish J.K. Rowling’s First Novel For Adults

Media Bistro: J. K. Rowling to Publish First Adult Novel

A little birdie at Leaky Cauldron told me a year ago that Ms. Rowling was writing an adult novel and that she could do nothing else but write, that “it was something all consuming, like a love affair.” That’s the little birdie talking, not Ms. Rowling. I half expected that this would mean a Christmas release in 2011. Nope. It took a little longer than that. Look for pre-publication announcements of title, plot, etc., in the coming months in preparation for the most anticipated book since Deathly Hallows.

Anyone else out there find it amusing that Ms. Rowling and Mrs. Meyer share a publisher? (Hat tip to James for the links!)

Harry Potter Research Assistance Needed

Friend of this blog, Dr, Joel Hunter of the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University, is conducting some research and would like input from the serious readers here. In his paper for an upcoming conference, Dr. Hunter was going to mention the preferences readers have for some of the Hogwarts Adventures, and while we’ve all heard anecdotes about which books are readers’ least/most favorites, he wanted a more thoughtful study. So he created this very simple survey for readers to rank the books from most to least favorite (it’s great if you love them all; just decide which ones you are more likely to crawl back into when you re-visit Harry). If you have read all seven books at least once, please participate in the survey and feel free to pass it along to others who would like to participate. Please only take the survey once (I know some of you want to make Chamber of Secrets number 1 at all costs–restrain yourselves!). Thanks so much for your feedback and for taking part in our on-going goals of research and scholarship!

Taylor Swift MTV ‘Hunger Games’ Inspired Music Video

Read all about it at The Sounds of District 12 (and the Capitol, too)!